Last year when scientists mounted a pendulum above the South Pole and watched it swing, they were replicating a celebrated demonstration performed in Paris in 1851. Using a steel wire 220 feet long, the French scientist Jean-Bernard-Léon Foucault suspended a 62-pound iron ball from the dome of the Panthéon and set it in motion, rocking back and forth. To mark its progress he attached a stylus to the ball and placed a ring of damp sand on the floor below.
The audience watched in awe as the pendulum inexplicably appeared to rotate, leaving a slightly different trace with each swing. Actually it was the floor of the Panthéon that was slowly moving, and Foucault had shown, more convincingly than ever, that the earth revolves on its axis. At the latitude of Paris, the pendulum’s path would complete a full clockwise rotation every 30 hours; on the Southern Hemisphere it would rotate counterclockwise, and on the Equator it wouldn’t revolve at all. At the South Pole, as the modern-day scientists confirmed, the period of rotation is 24 hours.